Rules Column: Patti Daskalos

Rules of the Game:

Know where the strokes fall in match play

As our weather improves in the Pacific Northwest, we gear up for playing more golf and tracking our handicap index. For both stroke play and match play, there are some considerations about handicaps you need to know.

First, let’s talk about match play. Match play is philosophically different from stroke play because opponents in match play compete only against each other on every hole. Match play is 18 one-hole competitions where players can protect their interests and can see each other play.

A player wins a hole in a match by completing the hole in fewer strokes than their opponent.  Remember that handicap strokes may be given per hole and the lower net score is the hole winner. A player may also win a hole if their opponent receives a general penalty, or if the opponent concedes the hole.

A match is won when a player leads the opponent by more holes won than holes that remain to be played. When you are playing a match, you should tell your opponent your handicap before the match. Make sure you have your correct handicap for the match, as declaring a handicap that is too high may result in your disqualification if:

• You don’t correct the mistake before your opponent makes their next stroke

• And the declared higher handicap affects the number of strokes received or given

If you declare a handicap that is too low, there is no penalty. However, you must use the lower handicap for this match to calculate strokes you may give or get. You and your opponent are responsible for knowing and applying strokes based on the stroke index allocation the Committee has set. Usually, you can find that on your scorecard.

Consider this match play scenario. Chace and Foster are playing a match. On the 4th hole Chace and Foster both had a gross score of 4 for par. Chace was supposed to get a stroke, and both players forgot to apply the stroke. They agreed they tied the hole and tee off on the 5th hole. In this situation, the result of the hole as agreed upon stands. However, this scenario could end differently if Chace and Foster finished the hole, and agreed they tied the hole. But if Chace or Foster remember that a stroke was to be given BEFORE either of them makes a stroke to begin the next hole, or for the final hole before the result of the match is final, the result of the hole can be corrected.

Handicaps in stroke play have different considerations. Stroke play consists of a round or rounds of eighteen-hole (or less) competitions where players compete against all other players in the field. The winner is the player who completes all rounds with the fewest number of strokes. In stroke play, there is no requirement for your handicap to be shown on your scorecard, or for you to even add up your score—that is the responsibility of the committee.

The committee will calculate your handicap strokes and calculate your net score. But pay attention, sometimes the committee may implement a Local Rule that makes a player responsible for handicap on the scorecard.

Enjoy spring golf—and know your handicap.

Patti is a Rules Official with the Oregon Golf Association, Washington Junior Golf Association, NCAA, NAIA and the Junior World Championships. She can be reached at